The Jewish Community Debates BDS

As the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement gains momentum, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see at least two internal Jewish community conversations in which this painful, volatile issue with was debated with intelligence and mutual respect.

Last month, the New York-based org Jews Say No sponsored a debate/discussion featuring Israeli activist Yonatan Shapira, Birthright Unplugged director Hannah Mermelstein, Forward editor JJ Goldberg and J Street board member Kathleen Peratis.  It takes thirteen YouTube clips to see the entire program, but I highly recommend watching it from beginning to end. I found it informative, intelligent, passionate – and ultimately inspiring for the way a Jewish gathering could discuss such a potentially divisive subject so gracefully. (Click above for the first clip, then surf to the Jews Say No website to watch the next twelve.)

For its part, Tikkun Magazine held its own Jewish roundtable on BDS featuring Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner, Jewish Voice for Peace director Rebecca Vilkomerson; Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, founder of Shalom Shomer Network for Jewish Nonviolence, J Street president Jeremy Ben Ami; and Israeli Shministit (refuser) Maya Wind. The entire conversation can only be accessed by purchasing the July/August edition of Tikkun Magazine, but you can read key excerpts at the JVP website.

4 Replies to “The Jewish Community Debates BDS”

  1. Mermelstein and Shapira, as Jews supporting BDS, have radical viewpoints that will never gain more than limited traction within the Jewish community inside or outside of Israel.

    A member of the audience asked the panel to provide concrete examples on how Israel is not democratic. The Jewish people, as a group, are ignorant of any of the state of Israel’s non-democratic historical and present day policies.

    Education of the Jewish people on this topic is a basic starting point toward Jews supporting the equal human rights of Palestinians Arabs.

    The Palestinian lead BDS movement may prove to be an effective tool and any Jewish support for it makes that movement stronger. But as Jews, we will have a greater impact by working on Jewish lead movements that inform Jews and call on Jews to take action. Examples include J Street, the New Israel Fund, and other movements.

    1. Thanks Brant for posting this.

      What an epic conversation. Like the lady in green said (to use JJ Goldberg’s description) this is something that she has not seen in her lifetime. And this lady sounded to be at the mature end of the scale. What also I liked about this lady was that she supported both sides and that she hoped that through BDS and lobbying Israeli occupation would end.

      Kathleen’s summation that the 2 hour discussion was mainly about goals and not means was true. Yes, the discussion was mainly about can Israel be Jewish and democratic. Certainly Hannah and Yonatan (apart from numerous others) would disagree that Israel can be Jewish and democratic given the context and the process and it was created.

      Yonatan Shapira was amazing. Yonatan to me is like a Zen master. He shows extreme humility, sensitivity, patience, compassion and deep wisdom. Here we have someone as he said born and bred to be a pilot in the Israeli airforce, someone to lead and keep Israel safe from her enemies. And then a turning point happens in Yontan’s life where he realises that the values that he was taught from child hood were being ignored because they became inconvenient. Yontan, made so many good points.

      1. The fact that the Israeli government is proposing to criminalise even discussions of boycott on Israel shows that BDS has something to offer. I recall one Israeli peace activist saying there is nothing that the government and military fears more than anything than nonviolent struggle. Rember the deportation of Mubarak Awad in the first intifadah – such was his success in encouraging activism in the name of Gandhi’s teachings.

      2. The discrimination in Israeli (and the reason why he characterised Israel as an apartheid state both within and beyond the Green line) itself includes:

      (i) No Palestinian town has been founded post 1948 and yet 100s of Jewish-Israeli towns have been founded. [this gives rise to the demolition of the unrecognised villages such as we witnessed of al-Arakib on the 27 July – with cheering high school aged police volunteers]

      (ii). The right to immigrate to Israel is based on religion (in Yonatan’s words). Jews can immigrate despite having no immediate personal and physical connection (or legal title to land), however, Muslims and Christians from Palestinian background do not share the same right.

      (iii). The ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan is happening with the explicit approval of the Israeli government and judiciary. It was good to hear Kathleen has been to Sheikh Jarrah [to protest against this…]

      (iv). The demolition of ‘illegal’ homes only occurs for Palestinians not Jewish-Israeli homes.

      3. Palestinian villages having at their entrance rows and rows of tear gas canisters and used ammunition that has the company name and ‘Made in USA’

      It was the issue of Omar Barghouti’s attendance at Tel Aviv was brought up. It helped demystify the concept of an academic boycott. Instead of being hypocritical as Kathleen had imagined it; the boycott was for international society who have a choice – not for those in Israel and Palestine who don’t have the same breadth of choice.

      Lastly, I like Hannah’s Gandhi quote:
      First they ignored us, then they laughed at us, then they fought us, then we won.

      Let us hope as Hannah said we don’t fight each other about tactics but allow people to freely choose their own and work within our own sphere’s to make a difference.

      Shalom, Salam Peace

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